Virgin Galactic has announced plans to develop a new Mach-3 capable passenger aircraft. The aircraft will be capable of carrying 9 to 19 people at an altitude above 18,000 meters.
In an August 3 press release, Virgin Galactic announced that it had completed a Mission Concept Review and been awarded FDA approval for the development of a Mach-3 capable passenger aircraft.
The new aircraft will be developed by Virgin Galactic sister’s company, The Spaceship Company (TSC). As a relatively new entrant to the aerospace industry, TSC has already cut its teeth on the unconventional by developing and building SpaceShipTwo spaceplanes.
However, in its endeavour to develop a Mach 3 aircraft, TSC has sought help from one of the only companies with experience developing civilian supersonic air travel.
In addition to the announcement of its plans to develop the aircraft, Virgin Galactic revealed that it had signed a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding with Rolls Royce to develop the propulsion system. The British aerospace titan was responsible for developing the Olympus 593 that powered Concorde, the only supersonic passenger aircraft to ever enter service.
“Rolls-Royce brings a unique history in high speed propulsion, going back to the Concorde, and offers world-class technical capabilities to develop and field the advanced propulsion systems needed to power commercially available high-Mach travel,” said Rolls-Royce North America Chairman and CEO Tom Bell.
The basic aircraft design is expected to be a Mach 3 certified delta-wing configuration. It will have capacity for between 9 and 19 people depending on the cabin layout and will be capable of cruising altitudes above 18,000 meters (60,000 feet). To power the supersonic passenger aircraft, TSC and Rolls Royce hope to make use of “state-of-the-art sustainable aviation fuel.”
Although the Virgin Galactic press release touts the project as a catalyst for innovation, many have criticised the aircraft for being just another executive business jet in a saturated market. Despite offering market-leading performance, it is unlikely to provide a significant enough advantage to justify the presumably large price tag.
In addition to the criticism questioning whether there is even a market for the aircraft, it also appears to neglect the core principles of the company. Virgin Galactic was founded on the mission to offer space, or rather near-space travel to a wider audience than ever before. The Mach 3 aircraft achieves none of those goals and is unlikely to generate the sort of profits that could be used to fund that mission.